Today, most companies, regardless of their size and business, recognize the value of good project management practice. Yet, when the time comes to initiate the important task of creating a Project Management Office (PMO), many fail to do so, or it takes them multiple tries before a project management culture ignites and is embraced by the organization. Depending on the current company culture and at which organizational level was the PMO initiative proposed, the strategy and setup difficulty may vary. Still, most challenges that a PMO implementation will have to go through are very similar.

[ribbon-light]Commitment[/ribbon-light]An important, if not the most important, element to take into consideration is sponsorship. It will be really hard, if not close to impossible, if the initiative is not supported at the corporate level or senior management level. If the subordinates do not see the PMO implementation as a priority and part of the business strategic plan on which they might be held responsible to execute, it will be hard to take the changes that come with a PMO seriously and with the commitment required. New processes come with a resistance to change and with a learning curve. Also, the value that is taken from a PMO differs from level to level within an organization. Therefore, it is very important to get every member that is impacted by the PMO to align with the initiative and recognize its benefits. This sponsorship and company culture will drive us to one of the first decisions that need to be taken when implementing a PMO.

[ribbon-light]Culture[/ribbon-light]Which type of PMO is the correct one? There are three types of PMO: Supporting, Controlling and Directive. Although the intention of this article is not to dive into the details of these three types of PMOs, it is suggested to start with a supporting PMO if the organization already has senior project managers who follow a project management (PM) process and are looking for a centralized knowledge base and to standardize the PM practice. If there is no PM culture, a suggestion would be to move forward with a controlling PMO. A directive PMO should be implemented once the PMO continues to mature and the organization moves to a project or strong matrix culture. Once a full assessment is done on the company’s maturity in PM, such as a Project Management Institute – Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OMP3) for example, and a PMO type has been selected, then there are many more elements to take into consideration, which might be the difference between a successful or failed PMO.

[ribbon-light]Value and Expectations[/ribbon-light]To start with, as with any project, all the stakeholders and their expectations need to be documented and well understood. In most cases, there is a lot of excitement to have a PMO and have projects documented, everything centralized, standardized, defined workflows for their reviews and approval processes, and have a nice set of dashboards displaying all their project metrics. In reality, every one of the stakeholders, varying from department, organizational level, types of projects and just everyday necessities, will have a different view of how they define all these PMO benefits. Add to that, the fact that the PM team in charge of setting up the PMO will have their own view of the ideal PMO. So start by getting a consensus of the sponsors and most influential stakeholders. Once there is a defined set of requirements, well documented and approved by the stakeholders, and at least a list of milestones with their expected completion dates, then there is an understanding of what will make the PMO implementation successful.

[ribbon-light]Change Management[/ribbon-light]Now is when the real challenge begins. As I previously mentioned, there is a learning curve, resistance to change and a challenge to make all team members in the organization adapt to all the new processes that come into play with the new PMO. Now that the most important challenge has been overcome and there is full support and commitment from management, the rest of the organization needs to buy in and embrace the new practices. This requires a lot of training, support and sales skills. After all, the project managers, business analysts, subject matter experts and the rest of the team members who work on projects will be the ones in charge of documenting, evaluating requirements, providing design, testing, rising flags whenever there is a risk or issue, and providing project status. They are the ones making the PMO functional and feeding all the information needed to really know the project’s health and organizational behavior. Many will see the new PM structure as an opportunity to close some process gaps and make everything more efficient, yet others may see it as additional workload. This is why it is important to have management’s support, but most importantly, it is to all within the organization to see the value of the PMO, understand the benefits that it brings and that it will make everyone’s life easier, because that is how it should really be like. Yet, it is going to take some sales skills and training to get the team marching toward our goal. It is important to make a step-by-step implementation plan for our PMO. Start with those areas that add the most value to our sponsors and yet require less effort from the team members, and continue building the PMO stages. We want to capture and document good, reliable and current data as much as we can and as soon as possible. If we try to implement the PMO as robust as it should be for the organization all at once, we run the chance of creating a lot of fatigue to our resources and make a bottle neck that can affect the PMO implementation and even worst the company’s projects development.

[ribbon-light]PMIS and the use of technology[/ribbon-light]It is unbearable these days to talk about implementing a PMO without putting the same effort into implementing a Project Management Information System (PMIS). In order to integrate all these new templates, processes and trainings, we have to use the technology that is currently available to integrate and automate our processes. Old processes, as for example, having approvers to print a page, sign it, scan it and sent it back, are not going to work nowadays and will have a negative impact on our projects. The ease of use of these systems facilitate how we track our projects, update progress, collaborate with everyone involved in our projects and even create reports. It makes data easy to capture now and easy to retrieve later. Enterprise Project Management (EPM) or Project Portfolio Management (PPM) systems provide a win-win situation for all. They reduce the time that is wasted in managing PM processes and improve collaboration by allowing the team to have access to all the documentation in one centralized location, receive alerts whenever a task has been assigned or changed, or a risk or issue has been initiated. It also provides control and visibility over resources, costs, quality, schedules and return of investment (ROI) over the project portfolio. It even provides the tools to manage the portfolio governance, allowing to compare multiple scenarios based on budget, business strategic impact and resources available, in order to aid the project selection process.

[ribbon-light]Business Intelligence[/ribbon-light]One of the most valuable features of these systems is the creation of business intelligence dashboards, which allows us to make reports, key performance indicators (KPI) and multiple graphs for any of the information that is valuable at any level. All dashboards available on demand and providing current data at all times make this type of solution really powerful. In occasions, companies already own the tools needed to create a top PMIS to integrate with the PMO, but ignores it. A resource with PM and BI knowledge will be of great value for this type of implementation. Integrating technology in a PMO is key to make it successful.

Creating a PMO is desired by many, but it is a complex journey in which many elements need to be taken into consideration, and in which each can be a reason to make a PMO a success or a failure. Leadership support is indispensable, as well as a good PMIS. Finally, the true element to keep in mind in order to make a successful PMO is to always remember that the PMO is there to provide a service. The PMO works for the project managers and each member of the organization, not the other way around.

[ribbon]Author Bio:[/ribbon]Jose Vera is an experienced technical project manager who specializes in managing global projects within Information Technology. He is a certified Project Management Professional, licensed Professional Engineer, Certified Microsoft Professional and Six Sigma Green Belt. Currently works assessing companies in establishing project management best practices, implementing PMO and PMIS using PPM system, MS Project Server with Business Intelligence integration. Jose has served as a project manager and technical expert in the medical devices, healthcare, consulting and aerospace industries. Connect with Jose Vera on LinkedIn.